Everyone was awake and milling around the room, talking in whispers so as not to disturb us. We untangled ourselves in a hurry, self-conscious without the privacy of the dark. Before we’d had a chance to compose ourselves, in breezed Miss Peregrine with a pot of coffee and Nim with a tray of mugs. “Good morning, all! I trust you’re well-rested, because we’ve got lots of—”
Miss Peregrine saw us and stopped midsentence, her eyebrows rising.
Emma hid her face. “Oh, no.”
In the exhaustion and emotion of last night, it hadn’t occurred to me that sleeping in the same bed as Emma (even if sleeping is all we did) might offend Miss Peregrine’s Victorian sensibilities.
“Mr. Portman, a word.” Miss Peregrine set down the coffeepot and crooked a finger at me.
Guess I was taking the rap for this one. I stood up and smoothed my rumpled clothes, color rising in my cheeks. I wasn’t ashamed in the least, but it was hard not to feel a little embarrassed.
“Wish me luck,” I whispered to Emma.
“Admit nothing!” she whispered back.
I heard giggles as I crossed the room, and someone chanting, “Jacob and Emma, sittin’ in a tree … y-m-b-r-y-n-e!”
“Oh, grow up, Enoch,” said Bronwyn. “You’re just jealous.”
I followed Miss Peregrine into the hall.
“Nothing happened,” I said, “just so you know.”
“I’m sure I’m not interested,” she said. “You’re leaving us today, correct?”
“How did you know?”
“I may, strictly speaking, be an elderly woman, but I’ve still got my wits about me. I know you feel torn between your parents and us, your old home and your new one … or what’s left of it. You want to strike a balance without choosing sides, and without hurting any of the people you love. But it isn’t easy. Or even, necessarily, possible. Is that about the size of it?”
“It’s … yeah. That’s pretty much it.”
“And where have you left things with Miss Bloom?”
“We’re friends,” I said, testing the word uneasily.
“And you’re unhappy about it.”
“Well, yeah. But I understand … I think.”
She cocked her head. “Do you?”
“She’s protecting herself.”
“And you,” Miss Peregrine added.
“That I don’t get.”
“You’re very young, Jacob. There are many things you’re not likely to ‘get.’ ”
“I don’t see what my age has to do with it.”
“Everything!” She laughed, quick and sharp. And then she saw that I really didn’t understand, and she softened a bit. “Miss Bloom was born near the turn of the last century,” she said. “Her heart is old and steady. Perhaps you worry she’ll soon replace you—that some peculiar Romeo will turn her head. I wouldn’t count it likely. She’s fixed on you. I’ve never seen her as happy with anyone. Even Abe.”
“Really?” I said, a surge of warmth building in my chest.
“Really. But as we’ve established, you’re young. Only sixteen—sixteen for the first time. Your heart is just waking up, and Miss Bloom is your first love. Is she not?”
I nodded sheepishly. But yes, undoubtedly. Anyone could see it.
“You may have other loves,” Miss Peregrine said. “Young hearts, like young brains, can have short attention spans.”
“I don’t,” I said. “I’m not like that.”
I knew it sounded like something an impulsive teenager would say, but at that moment, I was as sure about Emma as I’d ever been about anything.
Miss Peregrine nodded slowly. “I’m glad to hear that,” she said. “Miss Bloom may have given you permission to break her heart, but I have not. She’s very important to me, and not half as tough as she lets on. I can’t have her mooning about and setting things on fire should you find yourself distracted by the feeble charms of some normal girl. I’ve been through that already, and we simply haven’t the furniture to spare. Do you understand?”
“Um,” I said, caught off guard, “I think so …”
She stepped closer and said it again, her voice dropping low and stony. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Miss Peregrine.”
She nodded sharply, then smiled and patted my shoulder. “Okay, then. Good talk.” And before I could respond she was marching back into the library and calling out, “Breakfast!”
* * *
I left an hour later, accompanied to the dock by Emma and Miss Peregrine and a full complement of our friends and ymbrynes. Sharon was waiting with a new boat left behind by fleeing Ditch pirates. There was a long exchange of hugs and tearful goodbyes, which ended with me promising I would come and see everyone again—even though I didn’t know how I’d manage that anytime soon, what with international flights to pay for and parents to convince.
“We’ll never forget you, Jacob!” Olive said, sniffling.
“I shall record your story for posterity,” Millard promised. “That will be my new project. And I’ll see that it’s included in a new edition of the Tales of the Peculiar. You’ll be famous!”
Addison approached with the two grimbear cubs trailing him. I couldn’t tell if he had adopted them or they him. “You’re the fourth-bravest human I’ve ever known,” he said. “I hope we’ll meet again.”